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   Chapter 27 COME ON!

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 7721

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The Esquimau's depression continued. After flinging down the few bits of wood he looked across the cavern to where the friends were huddled together, but did not speak. Then he glanced at the crevice, now so completely blocked with snow that they were protected against any more drifting in upon them.

The three respected his silence, and held their peace. He stood a minute or two, looking gloomily into the fire, which he replenished, partly from the scant supply he had brought. While it was gaining strength he drew his knife, deftly cut a number of pieces from the frozen body of the wolf, and proceeded to cook them over the blaze. Had he been alone he would have devoured them raw, but he knew the sentiments of his companions.

"Well, Docak," said Jack, feeling that the silence ought not to continue, "it looks as if we are in for a long stay. We shall have enough to keep us alive a good while, and, when you're ready, you can come and snuggle down beside us."

"Not now," he replied, continuing his culinary work, with what seemed a wasteful disregard of fuel until he was through.

When nothing more remained worth attention he held up a piece, considerably scorched, and, looking at the others, asked:

"Eat now?"

"No; we'll wait till morning," replied Rob, speaking for the rest.

"All right."

But he was not disposed to wait if they were. He made quite a meal, with as much evident enjoyment as if it had been upon the choicest part of the musk ox. He took care, however, to leave a good supply against the "rainy day" that he felt no doubt would come to them all.

The dismal day wore slowly away, and with a feeling of unutterable loneliness they saw the second night of their enforced stay in the cavern close around them. The cold seemed to intensify with the approach of darkness, and the supply of wood had grown so slight that the warmth was barely perceptible.

The blizzard raged with unabated fury. The gale shrieked around the rocks, the blinding snow whirled and eddied until it seemed that it must bury them out of sight, and the outlook was woeful enough to chill the bravest heart. The three in the corner adhered to their resolution not to eat any of the food prepared before the morrow. They might need it then to aid their systems in withstanding the terrific strain, but, as in the case of the bear on the iceberg, it must be the last resort.

The Esquimau declined their invitation to join them in the corner. He was thickly clad, and was so accustomed to the rigors of the Arctic winter that he needed no such help. He seated himself near by, and talked a little, until, at a late hour, troubled sleep settled over all.

A gleam of hope came with the break of day. Docak was the first to awake, and, without disturbing the others, he forced his way through the entrance and took a survey of the weather and his surroundings.

The blizzard was over. The fall of snow had ceased, little wind was stirring, but the cold was terrible. Toughened as he was, he shrank when first exposed to it. The party had been walled in so tightly that the warmth of their bodies was of more help than would be suspected.

Quick to note the change in the weather the native studied the sky with its numerous signs in the effort to learn what was likely to come in the near future.

Great as was his skill at this it was now taxed to the utmost. The sun was not visible, and the difficulty became the greater; but he tarried until he had perfected his theory.

The discouraging feature which the native saw about the matter was that the blizzard had ceased for a time only. He believed it would soon resume its fury, fully as great, if not greater than before, and it might continue for days and possibly weeks. If, when that time should come, it found them in the cavern they were doomed beyond the power of m

ortal man to save themselves.

But the prospect was equally hopeless, if the lull lasted only a few hours, for, when it should break forth again it would overtake them in the open plain (provided they made the start he had in mind), where no screen against its resistless power could be secured.

It should be understood that Docak's solicitude was on account of his friends. Had he been alone he would not have hesitated to set out for the coast, and with every reason, too, to believe he could make it, even, if the battle of the elements were renewed when but a small part of the way thither.

But he had three others in charge, and it was hard to decide whether to urge them to make the attempt now or wait awhile, in the hope that he could settle with certainty the extent of the cessation of the blizzard.

The additional snow was between two and three feet deep, where it had not been drifted by the gale. With the help of snow-shoes it would have been an easy matter to skim over it, but there were no snow-shoes to be had, as has been shown, the new fall was of such fine character that they would sink its full depth when essaying to walk upon it.

When he turned about and re-entered the cavern his friends were astir. Their appetites had assumed that edge that they eagerly attacked some of the meat prepared the night before. The few embers had been stirred into a sickly blaze, but not another stick remained. The warmth was only perceptible when the chilled hands were held almost against it.

The Esquimau smiled grimly when he saw what they were doing, but with the reticence that had marked his course since refuge was taken in the cavern, he held his peace. Jack greeted him pleasantly, and he nodded in return, and then again passed outside.

The sailor and lads had peeped after him, and discovered that the fall of snow was over, and the wind was not blowing. This gave them considerable hope, inasmuch as they were unable to read its full meaning like the native.

"It's easy enough to see what he has on his mind," remarked Jack.

"What is it?" queried Rob.

"He is considering whether we shall make a start now for the coast or wait awhile longer."

"What's the use of waiting," asked Rob, "when it can't be any better and may grow worse? The snow that has fallen will stay where it is for months, so we can gain nothing there. I'm in favor of starting for home while it is yet morning."

"That's the way it strikes me, but he'll make up his mind, and whatever he says we'll do. He isn't in the mood to take any advice from us; I never seed him so glum before."

"We're quite well protected," added Fred, who was eager to be off if that should be the decision; "we have the thickest kind of clothing, heavy shoes, and warm undergarments. Then we mustn't forget that when we start through the snow the labor will help to warm us. Fact is, I don't understand why Docak hesitates."

The Esquimau used less time than they supposed in reaching his conclusion. But, with a view of giving him a hint of their wishes, Jack and the boys prepared themselves as if it had been settled that they should venture at once upon the perilous attempt. They carefully adjusted their clothing, tying the lower parts of their trousers about their ankles, so as to keep out the snow, buttoned their heavy coats to their chins, pulled up the collars more carefully, and fixed their caps in place, though all this had been done to a certain extent before.

When nothing remained they ranged themselves in a row beside the entrance and awaited the appearance of their guide.

He came in the course of a few minutes. He started slightly when he read the meaning of it all.

"We're ready," said Jack, with a smile.

"All right-we go-foller me-come on!" and he led the way out, and they turned their backs on the cavern forever.

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